The magical rainbow mountains are located in Cusco, Peru high up in the Andes. The peak of the rainbow mountains has an altitude of 17,060 ft / 5,200 m above sea level. The city of Cusco sits at an altitude of (11,152 ft / 3,399 m). The rainbow mountains are called Vinicunca, Winikunka, or Montaña de Siete Colores by Peruvians. If you’re asking yourself “is it worth going to Peru’s rainbow mountains?” the answer is YES.
Rainbows and mountains are both beautiful. And I’m obsessed with anything colorful/shiny/that sparkles. So when I heard you could hike to a RAINBOW MOUNTAINS in Peru (rainbows + mountains = Chelsea’s favorite things) I knew I had to go.
Visiting Peru’s Rainbow Colored Mountains
I was nervous for the ascent up the mountain- Instead of acclimating like most people, I had been sick for a good majority of the trip from the altitude in Cusco (for whatever reason my body absolutely HATES altitude, and anything over 9,000 ft makes me nauseous and uncomfortable). This trek would be pushing my body to limits I’d never pushed it to before- and I worried these beautiful mountains could very well be the death of me.
How do you get to rainbow mountain?
The morning of the hike starts EARLY, or late if you want to look at it that way- the van picked us up from our Airbnb in Cusco at 2:30 a.m. We all instantly regretted not bringing a pillow for the 3-hour ride ahead of us. Blankets were provided for us, so we attempted to sleep on each other and catch up on some zzz’s (we didn’t get to sleep till 10 p.m after the Machu Picchu trip ). The rough ride made that difficult, and nobody got much sleep. I’m pretty sure there are more speed bumps in Peru than in the entire continent of South America…
We arrived at a village 15 minutes from the trailhead where we were fed a light breakfast by the locals. Breakfast consisted of bread, jams/butter, a plate of scrambled eggs, and some tea (it’s highly recommended you drink the coca tea- it will help with the altitude sickness). I was nauseous from the van ride and/or altitude so I skipped breakfast.
When we arrived at the trailhead around 6:30 a.m. we were at 14,000 ft and it was cold! Layers on layers were key to this trek. There were locals selling wool gloves, hats, scarves, parkas, and other souvenirs- a couple of people from the group bought some hats and gloves. We still had 2000 ft in elevation to gain and it was already cold.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to bring a tri climate coat. The peak is WINDY AND FREEZING and temperatures change quickly when you ascend the mountain. I promise you will be grateful for the different layers your jacket provides. I lost mine on the plane to Peru so I bought a light rain jacket at the Lima airport thinking “oh, well this will be fine over my shirt and sweatshirt.” WRONG. It did not serve me well. It was so cold at the peak that it was hard to enjoy the views. But I felt quite victorious at the same time.
Can You Ride Horses up the Mountain?
There were horses for rent that you could ride up the mountain for 60 soles (about $18 USD). SOLD. And that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Half our group decided to rent horses, while the other half decided to brave the mountain on foot.
The horse came with a local guide who led the horse up the mountain for you- these guides were the real heros. They were wearing sandals on their feet- and made the trip up and down the mountain MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, sometimes running past other hikers on the way down.
It was impressive and made me feel like a wimp on my horse- but then I’d try to take a deep breath, and considering I was having a hard time breathing just sitting there, I knew the horse was a wise decision.
Wildlife Along the Vinicunca Trail
Riding the horse up the mountain allowed me to relax, and enjoy all the incredible views along the way. These views included cuteness overload, with thousands of alpaca, llama, and farm animals.
Reaching the Peak
The horses do not go up the last quarter mile of the hike- the mountain is too steep, and the air is too thin- so you know what that meant? It was up to us to make it through the hardest part of the hike. Since we had left at 2:30 in the morning- we were the first tour group to arrive at the mountain.
There was only 4 people in sight, and we had the opportunity to be some of the first people up the mountain that day. So I moved as fast as I could before the other tour groups started arriving at the summit. The key was slow and steady, I would take 5 steps and be panting and out of breath.
Is hiking rainbow mountain hard?
The photo above doesn’t make it look very daunting, does it? I was so frustrated climbing up that hill I couldn’t breathe, my stomach was rolling with high-altitude nausea, and I was in tears just 10 feet away from reaching the top. Beyond miserable, I was ready to turn around to get more oxygen. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it, thinking for sure I was going to die by asphyxiation right there on that mountain in Peru.
But Logan helped me get there. With short breaks every few steps up, his encouragement and support gave me the strength to pull through. We made it to the top together and it was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
When I finally took my last step to the top I collapsed to the ground, gasping for air, trying to catch my breath for a couple of minutes. I felt like a fish out of water. Finally, my breathing slowed- and as I lifted my head to look up at what I had just worked for a smile of pure joy spread across my face, and I knew instantly it was all worth it…
I mean look at all the hikers below.
**This hike is extremely difficult for all levels of fitness, due to the high altitude and low oxygen levels. Please consult with your physician if you have any questions. It is recommended that hikers do not spend more than 30 minutes at the peak (the air is too thin)**
Arriving at the Peak of rainbow mountain
Making it to the top of the peak was a huge accomplishment for me. I fought through physical and mental exhaustion not allowing myself to give up (believe me, I wanted to) Everyone cheers each other on at the top, those that have reached it, know that it’s those last few steps where people hit their wall and almost give up, and they NEED that encouragement.
We were offered the horses again on the way down. I was confident enough that I could make it down on my own, so I declined the assistance. The trip down as always- was easier than the trip up.
Homemade Peruvian Lunch
When we got to the bottom we were served a homemade authentic Peruvian lunch, and I had no issues stuffing my face this time around. It was, after all, Thanksgiving 🦃
My Peru Crew!
Things to know before you visit Rainbow Mountains in Peru
Our group of 6 did a tour package with Flashpacker Connect. They were awesome, and our guide Johnathon was extremely knowledgeable, and because it was just our group on the tour it was more personalized. Our package was for the 2 day Inca trail hike, 1 day Machu Picchu, and 1 day in the mountains. They provided transportation to and from each expedition, an overnight stay after the Inca trail in the town Aquas Calientes, and a good majority of our meals.
**If you are concerned with the altitude, please consult with your doctor before your hike**
The mountain trek takes place above 4000 meters; the terrain is challenging, and the weather is unpredictable ranging from hot and humid to rain and wind. Hikers should be in reasonable shape, and healthy. Ensure you have the proper gear and be prepared for variable weather conditions throughout the day.
Best Rainbow Mountain tours
If you want
This was the tour that our group went on. We did a full day at rainbow mountain and then the next day we hiked the Inca trail to get to Machu Picchu. I personally thought the rainbow mountain hike was more difficult despite the large gap in distance.
Wondering what to bring on the rainbow mountains hike?
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You May Also Enjoy:
- One Day Guide to Lima, Peru
- Tour to the Humantay Lake – Day Trip from Cusco by A World of Destinations